Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 11

I'm not going to post all of the emails George and I exchanged. I just posted those last few because I'm lazy and didn't want to rewrite all that stuff. Now I'm going to post one paragraph of another email I wrote George.

I was just thinking earlier today about the whole notion of feelings/impression/etc. giving people knowledge, answering questions, etc. The notion seems odd to me, but I was having a hard time putting my finger on why. And then it occurred to me. It's because a feeling is a feeling; a feeling is not a proposition. Feelings don't have propositional content. They're just feelings. So a feeling cannot correspond to reality in the same way that a statement or a claim can correspond to reality. "Warm fuzzy" is not true or false; rather, you either feel it or you don't. The only way a feeling can confirm a truth is if you already somehow know that certain feelings are to be associated with certain answers. That's how language works. Words like "car" and "chalk," refer to things in the real world, so we associate these words with the objects they represent. In the same way, we'd have to have some way of associated feelings with propositions. A burning in the bosom might mean "yes," or a shiver in the liver might mean "no." (I can't remember where I got that phrase "shiver in the liver," but I heard it somewhere and thought it was funny.) But how do we come to associate feelings with propositions? How do we know that a burning in the bosom (or what have you) doesn't mean "no" instead of "yes"? I'm just very skeptical of the view that God communicates with people through feelings and impressions. I tend to think that people find the confirmation they are looking for. People believe what they want to believe. They feel good about the things they like, and therefore think they are true.
There ye have it!


At 11/21/2008 6:23 AM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

I haven't followed the exchange but I wonder whether a "sensus divinitatis" move might be possible in reply to your latest objection.

According to this, perhaps the feeling does not have the role of giving knowledge so much as labelling the knowledge as having a certain kind of provenance.

Suppose you can just see that something is the case. Generally this comes with a feeling and perhaps this is a kind of tag. The thing you know does have propositional content and the emotion is a kind of label to help you with nagging doubts about how you know what you know.

At 11/23/2008 1:48 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Psiomniac, it seems to me that before you could say the feeling was an act of providence to confirm some bit of information as knowledge, you'd still have to have some reason to think the feeling was caused by something divine. Since feelings can arise for a number of non-divine reasons, I don't think you can just assume a feeling has a divine origin.

You'd have to give me an example of "just seeing" that comes with a feeling before I could tell you what I thought about that suggestion. The only thing I can think of is morality. I think morality is something you "just see," and that it is often accompanied by an emotion. But I don't think the emotion and the moral intuition are the same thing, and I don't think the emotion is what causes the moral intuition. I think it's the other way around.

If you're talking about a hunch or something like that, I think that in most cases where somebody "has a nagging feeling" that something is true, it's because they have some reason to think it's true that they can't necessarily put their finger on. Sometimes we're able to assess a situation instinctively without consciously going through the reasoning process. I don't think it's because we have a sixth sense or anything like that. I just think our minds can apprehend patterns and such without consciously thinking about them. But in that case, we're obviously not talking about a divine source to our feelings, which is what the Mormons are claiming.

At 11/24/2008 7:01 AM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

I think you are right in saying you would have to have a reason to think the feeling was caused by something divine. Some Mormons would argue that they do have reasons though.

But the point I was making was that the fact that the emotion itself has no propositional content is not really problematic to the Mormon position. The emotion serves only as a kind of validating tag, not as a carrier of the knowledge.

From their perspective, they have independent reasons for supposing that particular emotions in particular contexts serve a function to alert them that X is knowledge, rather than supposing that the emotion carries X itself.

At 11/24/2008 1:42 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I don't have a problem with the epistemology of Mormons who back up their beliefs with reasons (like FARMS, for example). It's just with those who claim certainty on nothing more than a feelings alone.

At 11/24/2008 6:44 PM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

Fair enough.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home